I'm just putting this here to gather all of my relevant work so I can find it more easily. Perhaps one day, with a good deal more work, it will turn itself into a slender paperback.
Song of the Sage
In imitation of Tolkien
The world was old, and ruined walls
Had told the tale of countless falls,
Unnumbered tears, and silent bones
In buried graves and catacombs
Of cities dead when Rome was young;
When Troy was lost, and poets sung.
Alone the Evening Star gave light
When Epicurus rose by night.
Alone he trod on grassy leas
And scanned for Law in changing seas;
He grappled Chaos to the hilt
And knew it for the lies it built;
He wrung the truth from every blade
That turned beneath his mental spade;
The secret, deep and unalloyed,
Of atoms bound in endless void!
And when he raised at last his eyes
Upon the splendid starlit skies,
He laughed to think of Plato's chimes
And probed the deeps of space and time.
And where the priests saw godly powers
He saw ten thousand earths like ours!
Nor could the courage of his soul
Be daunted by its mortal toll.
The light that rose upon that morn
For seven centuries was borne;
Does it rest too beneath the hill?
I cannot tell; I cannot tell.
On Turkish shores the carven stone
Still whispers in a dulcet tone,
And Roman scrolls in Vulcan's cache
Still slumber in the mountain ash.
But there, outshining all the rest,
Still Venus lingers in the West.
O Heron wan in water wading!
Thou opus of untailored fashion—
Sure-footed on the shoreline's footing—
A tulle train, dawnlight's glisten,
Gowns thy form in matchless morning!
Heron! Ready in verdure reedy—
Agéd angler, weedmidst waiting,
Patient, still in silence stolen
From the olden deep unending
'Til the wide world's wild breaking—
Hunter haunting on the march and
interstice of world and world;
Sea and sky, blade of beak
Azure upon azure rending—
Virtue of a vise unyielding.
What crooked timber frames thy neck?
Methinks that it is not so stiff.
Whence the whittling of thy wing?
What the aurum of thine eye?
Where, thy heartblood's ceaseless spring?
Are thou Plato's man-of-gold,
Who rules a tribe of bronzéd fins?
Or yet a hermit cynical,
Who tossed aside his needless dish?
Is this thy sandy portico?
Nay, for thou art too like me:
We bear the stamp of origins.
Fatherless thou wert so feathered,
Motherless milked on thy sweet streams,
And here, alone, we stand together—
No more! Aye, fly! Fly to thine pleasure
Great noble bird, sun-midst sailing,
Prow a-gleaming, southward seeking;
Seek thee still a sweeter shore
And I, a sweet philosophy.
Yet I will linger here a time
Tasting of the morning's fruits—
'Ere long the yawning sea shall call:
The tide shall fail, and then the light,
And we shall mingle, you and I
Void with void, and mote with mote.
I saw Ilium gleam
As her walls, in a dream,
Watched her sons return home on their shields--
Saw the marching Greek host
In the corn, and the coast
Of Asia in
The philosophers spoke
In the shade of the oak
As the willows and cottonwoods reeled
In an October gale
Blowing hearty and hale,
Pages flipping in
And I wrote out your name
On the face of the stream,
Writ in water but never repealed--
Made your garden to bloom
Like the yucca, festooned;
Flowering lonely in
And your precepts I pressed
Like a stamp to my chest--
And a ring on my finger revealed
Where your likeness was cast
And a voice from the past
Rose up godlike in
I hoped to see thee again
By the feld or the fen
When the bells of the Twentieth pealed.
But--alas! lies my ring
At the end of all things
In a grave beneath
Seeing the bust of Epicurus
Ho! I--Master, I held from grief. We laid
Your body to its rest beneath the sky
And sun. What then to grieve? Thy atoms fly
Scattered, thy soul at more than peace which said
"Death is nothing"--but here! Thy sculptured head
Is wreathed with leaves of bay. Ah, how can I
Fall to grief? Your students with laughing cries
Honor you--your 'membrance blesses their bread.
Should scholarchs fail, and birds alone here warble--
Should vine and olive go to sage and sorrel--
Still aged men would carve your like in marble
And shining youth crown thy head with laurel.
This poem is written in the form of a sestina, with repeating end-words. The first stanza sets the pattern; each subsequent stanza recycles the words according to the one before, in this formula: 5, 2, 4, 3, 6, 1. Because the second-line word goes second in the next stanza as well, its position never changes. That word is "garden"--stable, reliable, unaltered.
The scene of the poem is the city written about by Lucian.
Abonoteichus - a dialogue
By winds and waves that storm our coast for ages!
By sighing Aphrodite in her garden,
Where hast thou been my son, for there is fire
Deep in thine eyes, and strife upon thy temple?
What trial shakes thy soul with trembling atoms,
Sieging thy mind like a beleaguered city?
I strain my limbs for use of all their atoms
And refuge take in this the soothing garden,
For multitudes are gathered at the temple
Where piled scrolls are ravaged in the fire!
A sickness lies upon this seething city,
And men disgrace the memory of ages!
Ah--is that all? Have ye not seen this city
Charméd by snakes, defiling grove and garden,
With grim religion spreading fast as fire?
Have ye not seen them lurking by that temple--
and of all sexes, qualities, and ages--
Who rain on Epicurus scorn like atoms?
But can it have been so in all past ages?
Can truth have grown free only in a garden
Which ought by rights have garlanded a temple?
Will all mankind forsake that sacred fire,
Spurning pleasure--denying void and atoms?
Naught but Euxine waters would cleanse this city!
Peace son! Their worth is measured not in atoms.
Some yet will seek true health, and this our garden
Will beckon them--a solitary fire
Against the darkness; a bright green-grass temple
Unroofed to starlight, shining like a city,
And crowned with all the wisdom of the ages!
Wilt thou then that we leave for that city?
And bear the fruit of peace from out this garden.
Even into the shadow of that temple?
For Epicurus, even unto fire.
And make his wisdom echo through the ages--
And calm that rage, that rends his scrolls to atoms.
Perched on shores of treacherous shoals
Where water heaves and, crashing, rolls
Beneath the beam that scans for souls,
The weathered prow and turning lens
That mortal after mortal tends
Stands firm unto the end of ends.
Hymn to Venus
Strange star! Light, lingering in the West, whoso
Wouldst gleam this eve o'er silken river and
The silt hills, and thread the hanging grotto
Of dew-laden boughs with thy shimmering strand--
You, who call forth the sun upon the morn,
Setting fire to heaven, spreading light
And vital heat to the meridian!
In wondrous light all things on Earth are born,
Reared, and given to passionate delight
In the sweetness of life!
Maid, keep you by night to some secret
Tryst? Awaiting a youth handsome and bold
To steal over the garden wall and get
Your hand in his, and kiss you as he holds?
O Venus, you! Whose ancient light deceives
Me not, skating along the face of things,
For I know its weft, and find it delved deep
In the roots and bones of Earth. Thy reprieve
Falls sweet--Tarry here, counsel me to sing
Of old seeds of truths grasped, and pleasures reaped!
The lamp of Vesper hangs still, a pale urn
Watering our sleep with light and dewy dreams;
But the motion of all things is return--
Sink, and rise again. I trace thy gleam
Wandering, alighting waves far past my sight,
And sail thy wake on craft of human thought.
Stars do not shine that men may calibrate
Their instruments--float on! But my delight
Shall be to wash on Grecian shores, where taught
A sage long past whose simple truths abate
All Earthly fears.
That man, a Greek, fallen
Into mortal memory--to stardust
And starlight, scattering in the swollen
Void those atoms that were the scene of lusts
And terrors long conquered--Searching out the
Grounds of wise choice and avoidance, he lived
In this world a match for all the gods
In happiness. His voice echoes to me
Across the centuries; he has contrived
A path of wisdom, pleasant still to trod--
A path incorruptible, laid forever.
Just a bit of silly rhyming fun at the expense of the dour lechers who've slandered Leontium through the ages.
To Boccaccio: A Rebuke
I mark it, sir, and wonder at it dully,
To find the lady's name maligned so fully
On evidence begot anecdotálly;
A pond'rous load to hang by such a pulley!
Was our Leontium so fierce a bully,
Who sent him off peripateticálly
Pouting, old Theophrastus; when her volley
Charmed a grudging kindness out of Tully?
And have you, sir, the gall to say she sullied?
Who scattered bastards all across Itály!
I mentioned Horace's epistle to Numicia in another thread. I wrote this poem as an Epicurean response to his question.
While walking in the woods, I am at pains
To pause at each cold circle of burnt stone.
A totemic blending of the profane
And sacred: a human altar where none
So human live—where memory and time
Are sacrificed in their concentric rings,
The ageless for the transitory. Each
Ring is a dolmen, or a stele of lime,
And tells of the past in a varied speech.
It gives me pause, this strange chaleur vitale¹.
I think on sacred groves—such that deterred
Thoreau², and Horace, with that old Ital-
ic saw: Do you think Virtue naught but words,
A forest only firewood? For though
The greater mass goes up in flame, pile
Upon pile of charcoal lying near
Sighs at this loss; of what, I do not know—
But that it pleases me to wander here.
¹French, Vital Heat
²Walden; "I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin, or let in the light to, a consecrated grove (lucum conlucare), that is, would believe that it is sacred to some god."
And...I think that's all! I'm happy to see signs of maturation as I read through them. I only recently read Horace's Ars Poetica for the first time and I'm trying to take some of his hints. Back to the blank page.
I am afraid that my poety-appreciation in general is very poor, and probably the others are much more sophisticated, but as a result the first one stands out for me:
it's understandable, on an understandable topic, and it *rhymes* - all of which would have impressed me when I was in elementary school, and still impresses me today!
Thanks for posting these and I look forward to more.
Note; I shared this poem with Elayne on her blog, and felt it proper to get her feedback before I posted it here. It is an elegy for her father, disguised within an ode to Archimedes.
The waters of the Tuska-loosa run
Down south into the Gulf of Mexico,
And carry the quiet griefs and the tears
Of multitudes to the sea—to mingle
Here with waters wept in forgotten times.
I think of one such now—of Syracuse
On old Sicilian shores, and of her son
Archimedes, in whose mathematical
Problems and proofs were laid the foundations
Of what has come to pass. The farmers of
Pickens County still use his clever screw:
Physicists at the University
Still prove his theorems; yet when Cicero
Was quaestor in Lilybaeum, his grave
Was already forgotten, and his life
Thought a mere legend by his townspeople.
Tully found those lost bones. He needn't have—
They are again lost to unending time.
The life of the scholar was in his work;
Take up the chalk and blackboard, or the graph
Paper and the mechanical pencil,
If you wish to find Archimedes. Or
Stand rather here, on these darkling ageless
Shores, or else out in the Alabama
Woods, in a pine clearing covered by night
And find his name written across the stars.
"You who measured the sea, the earth, and the numberless sands,
You, Archytas, are now confined in a small mound of dirt
Near the Matine shore, and what good does it do you that you
Attempted the mansions of the skies and that you traversed
The round celestial vault — you with a soul born to die?" —Horace, Odes I.28; transl. Peter Saint-Andre
Wow that is great Joshua!
I love it! My dad used to tell me the story of Archimedes' bathtub Eureka moment 😃. The father of my children is from Benevola in Pickens County. Lots of Latin names for small rural towns in Alabama-- Romulus, for example. And of course, we have an Athens, just down the road from me.
Thank you! I am happy to have reconnected you with a memory, Elayne. I remembered Pickens County from your Dido poem.
I'm taking a break from reading epigrams, and have decided to try my hand at writing one.
On a cold marble statue of Epicurus
I see you there, old friend, looking as stony as a Stoic. This is "absence of pain", to be sure; yet where is the pleasure in it? My heart beats hot blood.
It's funny how discussions reinforce each other. "Absence of pain" is a compellingly brilliant concept to advance if one needs to define a logical limit of pleasure to show how Philebus should have responded to a Socratic word game, but it's ridiculously banal if one needs to express and feel the depth of what life is all about.
That's just like, I would say, the tetrapharmarmakon can serve as an efficient memory device for those who are experienced enough to know what is being left out, but acts as a major impediment to those with insufficient background to understand it properly.
Logic is not life and computers are not alive. It's the end result that is important, and different contexts demand different approaches. Only the living can make the adjustments required by ever-changing contexts.
This seemed an appropriate place to post this It seems Epicurus was NOT anti-poetry as I've seen some writers contend.
We happened to have Janko's 2000 translation and commentary of Philodemus's On Poetry in the library. This is p.9.
This seemed an appropriate place to post this
And I thank you for it! What a great find.